It’s 2017. Three days after England Netball astonished a 7,000-strong crowd with a jaw-dropping one-goal loss to world number ones Australia. I can’t believe I still have cause to defend this lightning-fast, fierce, female sport.
On Monday Sport England announced its new cycle of funding. Every four years the government allocates a set amount of money for each sporting governing body – this four-year cycle England Netball will receive £16.9 million. This news led to two highly critical articles questioning the allocation of funding, criticising the people who play and branding netball ‘deeply uncool’. Even if you ignore the fact that this money actually represents a 33% cut in England Netball’s funding, you have to ask yourself; why would anyone decry the government for supporting women of all ages and abilities getting into sport?
The regressive tone of articles like this makes me want to bang my head against a brick wall. Netball in this country has made huge leaps forward for the plight of women’s sport in the past few years. Netball packs out giant arenas, is televised regularly on Sky Sports and even had its last international game broadcast on BBC 2 – during which #BBCNetball was the top trend on Twitter. England netball’s elite players are being scouted for the best leagues in the world and the international squad recently became full-time athletes – something netballers could only dream of ten years ago.
And this progress has been slow and hard-fought. Unlike hockey and football, netball doesn’t have a men’s equivalent game to buffer its audience and draw in bigger sponsors. It is basically a female-only sport and they’ve had to go it alone. Little-by- little netball has encroached upon the consciousness of the British public and has battled to transform perceptions from pleated skirts and pivoting to the aggressive, enthralling spectator sport it has become.
The article in question is riddled with inaccuracies. Describing defending as a ‘modified Nazi salute’ – other than being utterly bizarre – illustrates an intrinsic ignorance of the game, and other than to repeatedly bleat that netball is ‘uncool’, I’m struggling to find a purpose to the article. We already have enough men telling us netball is shit – it’s incredibly unhelpful to have to hear it from female journalists as well.
Last week we hosted an international Quad Series with the best netball teams on the planet all competing on our home soil – yet the media response is so overtly negative. I’m a journalist – I understand the need for sensational headlines and driving website traffic – but target your condescending click-bait elsewhere. Or, at the very least, actually watch some international netball before damning the entire sport and deeming it not worthy of government funding.
Coolness is subjective. But I think it’s pretty damn cool to have a team of athletic, vibrant women around you who’ll back you on and off the court. In my opinion it’s definitely uncool to put your energy into bringing women down. We won’t have it.
Follow Natalie on Twitter here: @NMozz